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Dream team

Duncan MacLean • Mar 29, 2019 at 12:16 AM

SPRING LAKE — A hallmark of this little Lakeshore community is support. From fundraisers and fun events to arts performances and athletics. So strong is local support that lifetime achievements don’t motivate self-congratulations, but rather thoughts of coaches, teachers and mentors.

Spring Lake high school senior Hannah Klein secured two longtime goals this year, as she was first accepted into the University of Michigan; and second, secured a highly regarded invitation to join the Wolverine dance team.

With visions of performing in the Big House on game day, Crisler Arena during an inevitable run to the Sweet 16 and the UDA National Championships, where Michigan placed sixth last year, Klein concluded the arduous four-day dance team audition process with thoughts of who got her there.

“I couldn’t believe it at first,” she said of the announcement. “I froze for a few seconds and my jaw dropped, and just emotion came over me. I hugged everyone in the room and was so excited to tell my parents and see their reaction and to tell coach Heather (Baumgartner). She gets so excited even when we just nail a routine as a team, so I knew how excited she would be. My dad is a Michigan football fan, we would always go to games at the Big House growing up, it has always been Maize and Blue for me. Coach Heather — she is so amazing. I couldn’t imagine my life without her and her support. She’s the reason I got here.

“It took a village to achieve this dream, really.”

For one member of the village, the audition verdict was no surprise.

“I knew she was going to make it,” said Spring Lake dance team coach Heather Baumgartner. “She is a very confident woman. Her work ethic is impeccable. She works until she gets a move or stunt and will keep doing it until she gets it right. She is a perfectionist in that area and is very determined. She is a leader on our team as a captain and I expect she will be in that same position eventually at Michigan.”

Life's work

Even with all the confidence in the world, earning a spot on a competitive dance team at the Division 1 level takes time — a lifetime.

“I started dancing when I was 4 or 4 years old,” Klein said. “It has really been my whole life. When I was young it wasn’t advanced, just being active. I started competing in the fourth grade.”

From tiny tykes and tutus to studio classes and competitions, Klein excelled through it all. By freshman year of high school, she was ready for her solo.

“I competed with a studio in Spring Lake from fourth grade until freshman year of high school. Then, I became independent and started competing solo, doing my own choreography. I would register myself, find my own training and design my routines.”

All the while, the standout’s sights were set on Ann Arbor.

“I’ve wanted to be on the Michigan dance team since I was 9 years old. I’ve always told people that it was my goal. When I have a goal, I do everything that needs to be done to achieve it.”

After a year of solo competition, Klein needed teammates and exposure. Baumgartner’s formation of the Spring Lake dance team came at the perfect time. Klein got a team to rally with and the Lakers got a leader.

“Hannah has been dancing in studios her entire life, since she could walk, probably,” Baumgartner said. “What elevated her to the D1 level was the start of the dance team three years ago. She was one of the original girls on the team as a sophomore and that’s where she started getting recruited.”

After a year of performing halftime routines at Spring Lake basketball games, Klein and the team attended a dance camp at Western Michigan University put on by the UDA, the same organization that hosts the annual collegiate National Championship competition. Naturally, some high-profile scouts were in attendance.

They noticed Spring Lake.

“Having both her studio and dance team background made her stand out,” Baumgartner said of Klein. “Studio is a lot more fluid. If they are dancing in groups, there is less synchronization. Dance team is more athletic, more synchronized. There is more strength and power involved. She is both fluid and very athletic.”

A few members of the Michigan team thought the same of the Laker senior, offering an introduction to the coaching staff and an opportunity for a recruiting visit.

Klein’s next opportunity to impress came at a dance combine, where a member of the coaching staff recognized the Wolverine-hopeful and organized a second visit. The second trip brought encouragement to audition for the team, kicking off the cutthroat process.

Making the cut

Step 1 of the audition process is a video submission showcasing a two-minute solo routine. A satisfactory performance earns an invitation to the four-day live audition process.

Four dancing sessions of increasing intensity and length, along with an interview following the second cut, is all it takes. Day 1 lasts two hours, Day 2 two and a half, Day 3 five hours and finally Day 4, the final cut, runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“It was pretty lengthy,” Klein said simply. “It was very tiring. By the end my body hurt, I had many bruises, but it was so worth it.

“I knew I had to dance my hardest to prove I could be a member, so even when my body was hurting, I just kept thinking, ‘This is what it all comes down to.’”

The auditions all centered on U-M dance team material learned and performed on the fly.

“They sent us a video before the audition with the fight song and a little sideline chant,” Klein said. “They taught us jazz and hip-hop routines, a few sideline routines from football and basketball, pom stuff. On the final day, we went in groups of three in front of a panel and they just said, ‘Show us Hip-Hop 1,’ or whatever.

“It was difficult especially with so many to learn. The toughest ones, for me, were the sideline routines. They taught us three and would call one out and give, ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ and we would do it on the spot.”

Klein’s lifetime of experience came in handy during the intensive try out.

“Dancing for 14 years really prepared me for picking up choreography,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of camps where that’s what you do. Thirty minutes of learning and performing.”

That said, experience was hardly a unique trait by Day 4. Klein managed to stand out by appealing to what the Wolverines lack.

“Everyone there was so fantastic,” she said. “They kept saying it was the most competitive tryout they have ever had. I performed everything really well, but what helped I think was the tricks we had in the hip-hop pieces.

“Michigan has missed the hip-hop final at nationals by minuscule margins the last few years. So, they really want a strong hip-hop routine. I knew I had to nail those and I think that set me apart.”

With a spot on the team, new dreams have filled Klein’s head.

“The biggest performance I’ve had is probably the Spring Lake vs. Grand Haven basketball game,” she said. There wasn’t an empty seat in the Spring Lake gym. The Big House is one of the biggest stadiums out there, and I can’t wait to run out of that tunnel.”

Not alone

Klein isn’t the only member of the young Spring Lake dance program ready to try their hand at the collegiate level. Six graduating members of the team were properly inspired by their coaches’ dance career at Michigan State University.

Lauren Shippy, Lauren Strauss, Ashley Berg, Kailyn Raha and Sophie Fuller all plan on trying out for their college squads, ranging from Western Michigan to the University of Tampa, even Michigan State.

“I can definitely say it was Heather who motivated that,” Klein said. “None of us really understood that there as an opportunity to dance other than studying and majoring in it. She really encouraged us to try out. Without her, I don’t think as many of us would have followed in her footsteps.”

Opportunity is out there. All it takes is a village to show the way.

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